Thursday, 3 July 2008

House case shows more flaws in death penalty system

Posted: Thursday, July 3, 2008 1:56 am

Given his death sentence, the mound of evidence supporting his innocence and a U.S. Supreme Court formal recognition of those facts, it is a mystery how Paul House stayed in jail for the last two years.

House spent 23 years on Tennessee’s death row. New evidence in the murder case of Union County woman Carolyn Muncey appears to prove House’s innocence. Specifically, DNA evidence shows rape could not have been a motive for House to kill Muncey as prosecutors successfully argued in the mid-1980s. The DNA found on Muncey was that of her husband, according to advocates for House.

The highest court in the land over two years ago agreed no jury would have convicted House given the modern-day evidence. In June 2006, the U.S. Supreme Court concluded that, “this is the rare case where—had the jury heard all the conflicting testimony—it is more likely than not that no reasonable juror viewing the record as a whole would lack reasonable doubt.”

House’s case is another example of deep flaws in Tennessee’s death penalty system that forces for and against the death penalty should want to change.

Clearly, more uniform standards need to exist from jurisdiction to jurisdiction for prosecutors to follow given the state continues to pursue House despite the evidence to the contrary. Some measure of review for older cases should also automatically happen as those condemned to death may, like House, have a real case for innocence using modern-day DNA testing and forensics.

Some would call these kinds of safeguards coddling criminals. We argue that the death penalty is the ultimate use of the state’s power. After using it, there is nothing else the government can take away from a person. If we are going to grant the government this kind of power, the system itself should also be held more accountable.

No comments: